Friday, May 29, 2015

Only Republicans Can Be Rich

George Pataki announced he’s running for the GOP nomination.  According to the Villagers, he’s a “moderate” compared to the rest of the field, perhaps because he has yet to appear on stage with Ted Nugent and hasn’t called climate change a hoax dreamed up by Satan to raise beachfront property prices in Miami.

But he’s launched his campaign by attacking Hillary Clinton, including chastising her for being a dirty capitalist.

“They say we are against the middle class. This too is nonsense,” he said. “Unless by middle class, they mean someone who left the White House ‘dead broke,’ and 10 years later had $100 Million. Unless by middle class they mean someone who charges a poor country $500,000 for a half-hour speech. That’s their party’s candidate. She speaks for the middle class? They are the party of privilege; we are the party of the middle class.”

When he says the Republicans are the “party of the middle class,” he must be thinking about how they have devoted so much time over the last twenty years to fucking them over with higher taxes, attempts to eviscerate labor unions, and fight every attempt to make healthcare accessible and affordable, well, yes, then he’s right: the GOP has been the party of the middle class much the same way drought relief has come to Texas in the past week.

As for mocking the Clintons for making money after leaving the White House, I can only assume that he’s still playing the Poor George routine; the governor in the frayed suit schtick was cute when he was in office, but even then he was learning how to win friends and get rich with other income than what the people of New York paid him.

The lesson here is that when a Republican strikes it rich, he or she is living the American dream and is a shining example for all the hard-working but struggling prols in the middle class, but a Democrat is a leach and an elitist.  Got it.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rick’s Back

Obviously the GOP field isn’t crowded enough.

Rick Santorum, the brusque and deeply conservative former senator who won nearly a dozen contests in the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination, announced here Wednesday that he would seek to recapture that magic by entering a crowded primary competition likely to be far more difficult than the last.

The step forward by Santorum, 57, is the latest in a wave of entries by hard-right contenders who believe that after losing two straight presidential elections behind more moderate nominees, GOP voters will turn to a candidate unflinching in ideology who can excite the party’s base.

Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), a tea party star, announced his bid in March. This month, neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee — evangelical favorites and regular guests on Fox News — launched campaigns.

But even Santorum, known for his staunch opposition to gay marriage and abortion, has acknowledged that Republicans will need to adapt to the country’s rapidly changing demographics and social views to win back the White House.

So a hard yank to the right for Jesus and more tax cuts is exactly what we’re looking for.

There are knowledgeable folks who are saying we shouldn’t underestimate Mr. Santorum; after all, he came in second to Mitt Romney in a lot of the primaries the last time around.  But that flock of candidates was populated with as many loons and losers as this one, and in 2012, the base could be primed to give money to anyone who sounded like they could beat that you-know-what in the White House.

But if Rick Santorum still isn’t enough variety, there’s always George Pataki and Rick Perry yet to board the bus.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

First They Came For The Mainstream

Per Marco Rubio, the hunters will be the hunted.

“We are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech,” Rubio said in an interview with CBN News published on Tuesday. “Because today we’ve reached the point in our society where if you do not support same-sex marriage you are labeled a homophobe and a hater.”

Rubio added that eventually the teachings of the Catholic Church will be under attack.

“After they are done going after individuals, the next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the catechism of the Catholic Church is hate speech and there’s a real and present danger,” Rubio continued.

Aside from the fact that throughout history the Roman Catholic Church systematized the persecution and conversion — willingly or not — of millions of people in hundreds of countries and pretty much invented the idea of “enhanced interrogation,” the current leader of the faith seems less concerned about the acceptance of gays and lesbians than Mr. Rubio.  Granted, he’s not wild about it, but he isn’t making it sound like it’s the end of the world.

It also seems rather chauvinistic to think that the Catholic Church is the sole representative of mainstream Christianity.  There are plenty of denominations who qualify under that rubric who not only accept marriage equality but ordain gay clergy and perform same-sex weddings.

The only real and present danger is letting Mr. Rubio convince voters that he’s the one who should be speaking for mainstream Christianity.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Supremely Stupid

Mike Huckabee, who will never be president of anything, continues to prove that he should never be allowed near any form of power other than the adapter on a Dust-Buster with this spewage of religious bile and historical ignorance.

Republican presidential candidate Mick Huckabee insisted on Sunday that the president of the United States would not have to follow a ruling that struck down bans on same-sex marriage because the Supreme Court was not the “Supreme Being.”

“You seemed to indicate that as president, you wouldn’t necessarily obey court rulings, even the Supreme Court,” Fox News host Chris Wallace pointed out during an interview on Sunday. “We have operated under the principle of judicial review since the Marbury v. Madison case in 1803.”

According to the GOP candidate, the United States would be operating under “judicial supremacy” instead of judicial review if bans on same-sex marriage were to be struck down.

“Presidents have understood that the Supreme Court cannot make a law, they cannot make it, the legislature has to make it, the executive branch has to sign it and enforce it,” Huckabee said. “And the notion that the Supreme Court comes up with the ruling and that automatically subjects the two other branches to following it defies everything there is about the three equal branches of government.”

“The Supreme Court is not the supreme branch,” he added. “And for God’s sake, it’s not the Supreme Being.”

Huckabee wondered what would happen if the Supreme Court ruled on “who was going to be the next president.”

“We would say, ‘Well, they can’t do that.’ Why can’t they do it? They can’t do it because it’s not in the law,” he opined. “We are sworn to uphold the Constitution and the law. And it has to be consistent and agreed upon with three branches of government. One can’t overrule the other two.”

Setting aside the fact that apparently Mr. Huckabee was not paying attention in Grade 6 Social Studies when most kids learn about the three branches of government system that we have and that one of the roles of the Judiciary is to review the laws and does have the power to invalidate them, chuckling over the cute little “Supreme Court v. Supreme Being” quip, the statement that gets my attention was his fear of what would happen if the Supreme Court ruled on “who was going to be the next president.”

Yes, indeed, what would happen?

Fortunately for the sake of the country and what’s left of the separation of church and state, the best that Mr. Huckabee can hope for is that Fox News will take him back.  If not, there’s always the role that Junior Samples played on the reboot of Hee Haw.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday Reading

Obama on the Middle East — Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview in The Atlantic covers Iran, Iraq, and Israel, and the history of presidential legacies in dealing with all three of them.

“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” he said, referring to the apparently almost-finished nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of world powers led by the United States. “I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national-security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down.”

The president—the self-confident, self-contained, coolly rational president—appears to have his own anxieties about the nuclear talks. Which isn’t a bad thing.

Jimmy Carter’s name did not come up in our Oval Office conversation, but it didn’t have to. Carter’s tragic encounter with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic Revolution, is an object lesson in the mysterious power of Iran to undermine, even unravel, American presidencies. Ronald Reagan, of course, also knew something of the Iranian curse. As Obama moves to conclude this historic agreement, one that will—if he is correct in his assessment—keep Iran south of the nuclear threshold not only for the 10- or 15-year period of the deal, but well beyond it, he and his administration have deployed a raft of national security-related arguments to buttress their cause. But Obama’s parting comment to me suggests he knows perfectly well that his personal legacy, and not just the future of global nuclear non-proliferation efforts (among other things), is riding on the proposition that he is not being played by America’s Iranian adversaries, and that his reputation will be forever tarnished if Iran goes sideways, even after he leaves office. Obama’s critics have argued that he is “kicking the can down the road” by striking this agreement with Iran. Obama, though, seems to understand that the can will be his for a very long time.

The Candidate the Tea Party Hates — Jenna McLaughlin at Mother Jones finds out it is not Hillary Clinton.

The tea party hates South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, and the feeling is mutual. It attacked the Republican lawmaker mercilessly during his Senate reelection campaign in 2014, but Graham held his seat with 55 percent of the vote. “Kicking the crap out of the tea party is the most fun Senator Lindsey Graham has ever had,” wrote Molly Ball for The Atlantic last June after interviewing the South Carolina Republican on the eve of his primary election victory, when he faced six no-name challengers, one of them a tea party pick, in his deep red state’s Republican primary.

On June 1, Graham plans to join the crowded GOP 2016 field, according to his preannouncement on Monday. And his soon-to-be presidential campaign raises the question: How will the Graham/tea pary feud continue?

The animosity between this three-term senator and tea partiers began before his 2014 reelection campaign, triggered in part by Graham’s intermittent attempts to work with Democrats in the Senate. Such moves have enraged staunch conservatives. The Greenville GOP compiled a list of 29 offenses that they “strongly disapprove of and hold to be fundamentally inconsistent with the principles of the South Carolina Republican Party.”* Right-wing blogs have nicknamed him “Flimsy Lindsey” and “Grahmnesty” because he disagreed with his party on climate change, immigration reform, and a few other hot-button Republican issues.

Climate change triggered the first tea party salvos against Graham. In the fall of 2009, tea partiers in South Carolina and beyond bashed Graham for his support of energy legislation that aimed at reducing carbon emissions. In an editorial titled “Graham’s Dalliance With Cap-And-Trade Crowd a Bad Move,” Michael Costello of the Idaho’s Lewiston Tribunewrote, “If Republicans really want to completely alienate this crowd and give birth to a third party, they should follow the lead of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). [He] has thrown his lot in with John Kerry (D-Mass) to push one of the worst pieces of legislation in American history, the carbon cap and trade bill.”

Soon after that, as Politico reported, the conflict between Graham and tea partiers “sparked a mutiny back home” in South Carolina. The Charleston County Republican Party, in a written resolution, slammed Graham for stabbing Republicans in the back and undercutting “Republican leadership and party solidarity for his own benefit.” Politico noted that “bubbling” conservative discontent blew up because of the climate change bill but was also fueled by Graham’s support for immigration reform and changes at the US detention facility Guantanamo Bay. Graham, a hawk who often criticizes President Barack Obama’s national security policies, didn’t try to make peace with his conservative critics. Instead, he called detractors of immigration reform “bigots” and refused to disavow or stop his occasional bipartisan efforts.

“I’m making that a tea party goal to get scoundrels like Lindsey Graham out of office,” Greg Deitz, a Charleston Tea Party organizer, told Politico.

London Mystery House — Ed Caesar in The New Yorker on the biggest house in London and the question of who owns it.

Witanhurst, London’s largest private house, was built between 1913 and 1920 on an eleven-acre plot in Highgate, a wealthy hilltop neighborhood north of the city center. First owned by Arthur Crosfield, an English soap magnate, the mansion was designed in the Queen Anne style and contained twenty-five bedrooms, a seventy-foot-long ballroom, and a glass rotunda; the views from its gardens, over Hampstead Heath and across the capital, were among the loveliest in London. For decades, parties at Witanhurst attracted potentates and royals—including, in 1951, Elizabeth, the future Queen.

In May, 2008, I toured Witanhurst with a real-estate agent. There had been no parties there for half a century, and the house had not been occupied regularly since the seventies. The interiors were ravaged: water had leaked through holes in the roof, and, upstairs, the brittle floorboards cracked under our footsteps. The scale of the building lent it a vestigial grandeur, but it felt desolate and Ozymandian. A few weeks later, Witanhurst was sold for fifty million pounds, to a shell company named Safran Holdings Limited, registered in the British Virgin Islands. No further information about the buyers was forthcoming.

In June, 2010, the local council approved plans to redevelop the house and five and a half acres of grounds, maintaining Witanhurst as a “family home.” It was the culmination of a long battle with other Highgate residents, who did not welcome such an ambitious project. Since then, Witanhurst’s old service wing has been demolished and replaced with the so-called Orangery—a three-story Georgian villa designed for “everyday family accommodation.” And beneath the forecourt, in front of the main house, the new owners have built what amounts to an underground village—a basement of more than forty thousand square feet. (The largest residential property in Manhattan is said to be a fifty-one-thousand-square-foot mansion, on East Seventy-first Street between Madison and Fifth, owned by Jeffrey Epstein.) This basement, which is connected to the Orangery, includes a seventy-foot-long swimming pool, a cinema with a mezzanine, massage rooms, a sauna, a gym, staff quarters, and parking spaces for twenty-five cars. In late 2013, the local council approved plans for a second basement, beneath the gatehouse, which will connect that building to both the main house and the Orangery. Earlier this year, the owners also sought planning permission to extend an underground “servants’ passage.”

When the refurbishment is complete, Witanhurst will have about ninety thousand square feet of interior space, making it the second-largest mansion in the city, after Buckingham Palace. It will likely become the most expensive house in London. In 2006, the Qatari royal family bought Dudley House, on Park Lane, for about forty million pounds; after a renovation, its estimated resale value is two hundred and fifty million pounds. Real-estate agents expect that the completed Witanhurst will be worth three hundred million pounds—about four hundred and fifty million dollars.

If a vast and lavishly appointed house in Manhattan—a palace nearly double the size of the White House—were being redeveloped on the edge of Central Park, New Yorkers would want to know who lived there. Londoners are equally inquisitive, and concerted efforts have been made to uncover the identity of Witanhurst’s owners. Shortly after the house was sold, it became known—from local gossip and publicly accessible planning documents—that Witanhurst belonged to a family from Russia. Several newspapers speculated that the owner was Yelena Baturina, Russia’s richest woman, and the wife of Yury Luzhkov, then the mayor of Moscow. (Luzhkov and Baturina reportedly enriched themselves while he was in office, before Luzhkov clashed with the Russian government; she now lives in London.) Baturina denied owning Witanhurst, and in 2011 she sued the London Sunday Times for publishing an article titled “BUNKER BILLIONAIRESS DIGS DEEP.”

The Baturina lawsuit and the continued secrecy surrounding Witanhurst have intensified the guessing game. Generally, the names of homeowners in Britain are listed in the Land Registry, which can be read for a small fee. But listings for properties owned by offshore companies do not disclose individual beneficiaries. In the British Virgin Islands, records reveal merely the name of the “registered agent” of Safran Holdings—Equity Trust Limited, a local agency that holds several such positions and is connected to the company by name only—and the company’s post-office box, on the island of Tortola.

A recent investigation by the Financial Times found that more than a hundred billion pounds’ worth of real estate in England and Wales is owned by offshore companies. London properties account for two-thirds of that amount. Charles Moore, a former editor of the Telegraph, says that London’s property market has become “a form of legalized international money laundering.” For Highgate residents, however, worries about the lack of transparency in the purchase of Witanhurst have come second to a more English concern. People irritated by the construction noise and the traffic that have blighted their normally quiet neighborhood have no owner to complain to—only managers.

Doonesbury — Everything you say.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Who’s In? Who’s Out?

Fox News will determine who will be the next Republican presidential nominee.

Fox News announced guidelines Wednesday that will winnow the field of participants in the first Republican debate of the 2016 presidential campaign.

The network will require contenders to place in the top 10 in an average of the five most recent national polls in the run-up to the event, narrowing what is expected to be a field of 16 or more by the Aug. 6 event in Cleveland.

The rule could trigger an early rush of spending by lower-tier candidates seeking to boost their standing in national surveys before the pivotal first forum.

I was hoping they’d go with rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Jeb Steps In Another One

Just when he thought he had extricated himself from the war quagmire, Jeb Bush has stepped in another one.  This time it’s marriage equality.

Jeb Bush reiterated his opinion on a same-sex couple’s right to marry on Sunday, going so far as to say he doesn’t believe in a constitutional right to marriage equality, an issue currently being deliberated in the Supreme Court.

Speaking during an interview with The Brody File on the Christian Broadcasting Network, Bush, whom BuzzFeed dubbed “2016’s Gay-Friendly Republican,’ called traditional marriage ‘a sacrament.’

“To imagine how we are going to succeed in our country unless we have committed family life, a child-centered family system is hard to imagine,” he told David Brody. “So, irrespective of the Supreme Court ruling … because they are going to decide whatever they decide, I don’t know what they are going to do, we need to be stalwart supporters of traditional marriage.”

First, let’s unpack some of this garbage.  He’s right; there is no explicit constitutional right to same-sex marriage.  Nor is there an explicit constitutional right to straight marriage.  There is no mention in the Constitution about marriage at all.  However, the Supreme Court has said that marriage “is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,'” so they’ve got you there, Mr. Bush.

Second, traditional marriage may be a sacrament to some people and faiths, but it is also a legal contract that doesn’t require the blessings of a religion to be binding.  (For that matter, circumcision is also a sacrament in certain faiths, but I can provide evidence that in at least one case it had nothing whatsoever to do with religion.)  Marriage, however you define it, does not depend on religion.  If you want to have a nice wedding in your choice of a place of worship, whether it’s in a cathedral with a priest, a synagogue with a rabbi, or a meeting house with the Friends gathered around, knock yourself out.  But twenty minutes in front of a judge at the courthouse has just as much legal weight.

Third, it is demonstrably false that same-sex couples cannot provide for a “committed family life [and] a child-centered family system.”  Same-sex couples who adopt or go through surrogacy want children and want to raise them; they don’t get them because someone forgot to make a trip to Walgreens or things got a little too hot and heavy behind the DQ in their mom’s minivan.  So marriage equality could actually make the home better for a child who is wanted by the parents, and there is no scientifically valid study to show that having two moms or two dads is any different than being raised by straight parents.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at Mr. Bush’s transparent toadying to the homophobic base of the GOP.  Not so long ago he was saying comparatively moderate things about marriage equality, asking people to “show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue – including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections.”  But once he’s playing in Pat Robertson’s ball park, all bets are off, even going so far as to muse that discrimination against a gay couple buying flowers is okay because we’re a big country and there’s always room for bigotry dressed up in “religious freedom” drag.

This is beginning to be a pattern with him.  First he blew the Iraq war question, which he had to know would come up given that it’s his family’s business.  Now he turns into a culture warrior, apparently trying to horn in on the schtick of Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal, none of whom will give any ground on being sniveling homophobes of the first order.

It makes you wonder what the next turd pile he’s going to step in… Hey, Jeb, how about that auto bailout?  Should we have let Detroit go bankrupt?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Caught Another One

The Iraq war has another casualty.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida struggled on Sunday to give clear answers about whether it was a mistake for the United States to go to war against Iraq in 2003, becoming the latest Republican presidential candidate to trip on the wisdom of the military invasion.

Under a barrage of questions from Chris Wallace of Fox News, Mr. Rubio repeatedly said “it was not a mistake” for President George W. Bush to order the invasion based on the intelligence he had at the time. But Mr. Rubio grew defensive as Mr. Wallace pressed him to say flatly whether he now believed the war was a mistake. Mr. Rubio chose instead to criticize the questions themselves, saying that in “the real world” presidents have to make decisions based on evidence presented to them at the time.

“It’s not a mistake — I still say it was not a mistake because the president was presented with intelligence that said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, it was governed by a man who had committed atrocities in the past with weapons of mass destruction,” Mr. Rubio said on “Fox News Sunday.”

A moment later, as Mr. Wallace tried to pin him down on his view, Mr. Rubio began to reply, “Based on what we know now, I think everyone agrees — — ” but Mr. Wallace cut him off before he finished the thought.

“So was it a mistake now?” Mr. Wallace asked.

“I don’t understand the question you’re asking,” Mr. Rubio said.

At one point Mr. Rubio, in discussing the importance of hindsight on the Iraq war, raised a recent boxing fight to make a point. “Based on what we know, a lot of things — based on what we know now, I wouldn’t have thought Manny Pacquiao was going to beat, uh, in that fight a couple weeks ago — — ” Mr. Rubio said before Mr. Wallace interrupted.

The back-and-forth resulted in a three-minute video clip that Republican opponents could use against Mr. Rubio in the future, given that he came across as a politician used to debating fine points and nuances in the United States Senate — a problem that then-Senator John Kerry faced in his presidential run in 2004 — rather than as a seasoned leader used to giving clear statements. Mr. Rubio’s readiness for the presidency has been questioned among some Republican voters, given than he is a 43-year-old first-term senator, and moments like the boxing reference seemed discordant on a subject like the Iraq war.

I love it that it’s Fox News — supposedly the safe haven for the Republicans and the warmongers — that is trapping the candidates with this question.

Note to all once and future candidates: The answer is simple.  It was a mistake to go into Iraq in the first place even knowing what we knew then.  The outcome was foreseeable, the response from the hardliners such as al-Qaeda was predictable, and the birth of ISIS was inevitable even if our troops had stayed in Iraq after the combat mission had ended.  A lot of people were saying it then and sadly were proven right.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Jeb Finally Gets It Right

After four tries:

Those comments strongly contrast ones he made on Monday to Fox’s Megyn Kelly when he said he would have authorized an invasion. A day later, he backtracked, saying he misheard the question and did not know what he would have done. On Wednesday, Bush said he refused to answer as it would be a disservice to American troops.

But at an event in Tempe, Arizona, on Thursday, Bush gave yet another answer.

“I would have not engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq,” Bush said.

What was he doing, waiting to clear it with his big brother?

As Josh Marshall notes, now all the other Republican candidates think invading Iraq is a bad idea and they wouldn’t have done it.  Not because it was a bad idea then — even though it was — but because they want to inflict as much damage on Jeb Bush as they can.  It also gives us the chance to ask them about the whole war: how we got there, why they supported it, and what should we do with the aftermath.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Monday, May 11, 2015

Marco Rubio’s Sugar Daddy

As all the right-wingers go nuts over the Clinton Foundation and the contributions to it that are certain to make Hillary Clinton a slave to the donors, the GOP is sucking up to the billionaires with vested interests in gambling, oil, and real estate, among other interests.  Hypocritical? You betcha, and here’s a fine example of some of it from the guy who works five blocks from my office.

One day in the State Capitol in Tallahassee, Marco Rubio, the young speaker of the House, strayed from the legislative proceedings to single out a lanky, silver-haired man seated in the balcony: a billionaire auto dealer named Norman Braman.

This man, Mr. Rubio said in effusive remarks in 2008, was no ordinary billionaire, hoarding his cash or using it to pursue selfish passions.

“He’s used it,” Mr. Rubio said, “to enrich the lives of so many people whose names you will never know.” As it turned out, one of the people enriched was Mr. Rubio himself.

As Mr. Rubio has ascended in the ranks of Republican politics, Mr. Braman has emerged as a remarkable and unique patron. He has bankrolled Mr. Rubio’s campaigns. He has financed Mr. Rubio’s legislative agenda. And, at the same time, he has subsidized Mr. Rubio’s personal finances, as the rising politician and his wife grappled with heavy debt and big swings in their income.

But it’s all on the up and up because of course no Republican ever took money in exchange for anything but gratitude and a big box of Christmas cookies, right?

Pressed on his financial ties to Mr. Braman, Mr. Rubio said in an interview that he saw no ethical issue. “What is the conflict?” he asked. “I don’t ever recall Norman Braman ever asking for anything for himself.”

He acknowledged that Mr. Braman had approached him about state aid for projects, such as funding for cancer research, but said that he had supported the proposals on their merits.

The reliance on Mr. Braman is likely to put a spotlight on the finances of Mr. Rubio, who ranks among the least-wealthy candidates in the emerging Republican field. Mr. Rubio left the Florida House of Representatives in 2008 with a net worth of $8,351, multiple mortgages and $115,000 in student debt. In his latest financial disclosure form, for 2013, he reported at least $450,000 in liabilities, including two mortgages and a line of credit.

Mr. Braman and aides to Mr. Rubio have declined to say how much personal financial assistance he has provided to Mr. Rubio and his wife, directly or indirectly, but it appears to total in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In a series of interviews at his office in downtown Miami, above showrooms of shiny BMWs and Rolls-Royces (he also sells Cadillacs, Audis and Bugattis), Mr. Braman praised the Rubios. He recounted what he described as “excellent service from them” over the years, and said he wanted nothing in return for his financial help.

“I’m not going to be an ambassador or anything like that,” he said.

The next time a Republican says anything about Hillary Clinton and questionable finances, tell them to STFU.  And to buy a Ford.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sunday Reading

A Song For the Ages — David A. Graham in The Atlantic on the history of the civil rights anthem.

As marchers took to the streets of Boston in late April to demand justice for Freddie Gray, some of them began to sing: “We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome some day …”It wasn’t a surprising choice. “We Shall Overcome” is a staple for civil-rights protests—and for that matter, for any kind of social-justice movement. The Library of Congress calls it “the most powerful song of the 20th century.” So it was a surprise to learn that not only is the identity of the person who made it into that anthem known, but he died only on May 2.

His name was Guy Carawan, and he was 87 years old. The story of the song and how Carawan helped make it ubiquitous is full of surprises, and it’s a wonderful demonstration of the folk tradition at work, accreting bits and pieces over the years until it became today’s widely known version. It’s also, appropriately enough for a civil-rights anthem, the story of a song that draws heavily on both African-American and European-American tradition, just like all the best American music. Like so many folk songs, it feels as though it’s existed forever; asking who wrote it seems ridiculous. Hasn’t it always been there?

Actually, although the song is old, its history can be fairly carefully traced. The first few bars seem to derive from a hymn first published in 1792, called “O Sanctissima,” also published as “Sicilian Mariners’ Hymn.” As The New York Times notes in its Carawan obituary, Beethoven wrote a setting of the hymn, and the resemblance is unmistakable for even the least trained ear, though it diverges after the first few lines. The Times says that a version published in the United States in 1794 was already recognizably the melody known as “We Shall Overcome.”

The basic frame of the words seems to have come from “I’ll Overcome Some Day,” a hymn written by the Reverend Charles Albert Tindley, a famed black preacher in Philadelphia, and published in 1901. Tindley’s tune bears little in common with “Sicilian Mariners,” as you can see here. His words are also far more elaborate, and focus more on salvation of the individual by God, rather than the power of collective action. The lyrical similarity comes with a refrain on each verse, in the familiar AABA structure, that presages “We Shall Overcome.”

So when the did the song cross over from the sacred to the secular? The first appearance of the modern version of “We Will Overcome” comes from 1945. Workers in the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers Union in Charleston, South Carolina, went on strike at an American Tobacco Company cigar factory. The workers were largely, though not exclusively, black women. They reportedly ended each day’s picket with a version of the song.

Zilphia Horton, a labor organizer and musician, heard the song there, and Pete Seeger learned it from her. (Seeger is credited with changing the opening line from “We will overcome” to “we shall overcome,” though he wasn’t so sure.) Over the ensuing decade, the song was published and recorded several times.

Carawan, meanwhile, had served in the Navy in the U.S. during World War II and then studied at UCLA, taking a master’s in sociology. Able to play the guitar, banjo, and hammer dulcimer, he moved to New York City and joined the folk revival in Greenwich Village. In 1953, he traveled through the South with Frank Hamilton (who was not yet a member of the Weavers) and Jack Elliott (who was not yet Ramblin’). At Seeger’s suggestion, they stopped at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, an organizing school founded by Zilphia Horton and her husband Myles. Carawan learned “We Shall Overcome” there. In 1959, when Zilphia Horton died, he became Highlander’s music director.

In 1960, at the founding convention of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, in Raleigh, North Carolina, Carawan was asked to lead delegates in a song, and he chose “We Shall Overcome.” Carawan began accompanying himself on guitar, and soon the room was joining him. As he told NPR in 2013, it was an immediate hit:

That song caught on that weekend. And then at a certain point, those young singers, who knew a lot of a cappella styles, they said, “Lay that guitar down, boy. We can do this song better.” And they put that sort of triplet to it and sang it a cappella with all those harmonies. It had a way of rendering it a style that some very powerful young singers got behind and spread.

Moving Left — Elias Isquith in Salon on how the Democrats are a-changin’.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is not a timid man. But like most politicians, he is cautious. He’s taken some risks during his years in Albany — like when he muscled through same-sex marriage, or when he imposed a statewide ban on fracking. Even in these rare moments, though, he was careful and deliberate. He only gambled when he saw no better option. And that’s one of the reasons why his recent endorsement of a wage hike for fast-food workers is a genuinely big deal.

Writing in the New York Times, Cuomo, who usually bills himself as the consummate pro-business Democrat, declared that although he’d already signed a bill to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9 per hour by the end of 2015, the fast-food industry’s wage floor was still not high enough. And because the state legislature wouldn’t cooperate, the governor continued, he was going to direct the state’s labor commissioner to impanel a “Wage Board,” which would ultimately recommend a new fast-food minimum wage. There would be no need for legislative approval.

Unlike his moves on marriage equality and fracking, Cuomo’s joining the growing movement to raise service industry wages came rather out of the blue. But when you situate the notoriously plutocrat-friendly governor’s announcement in the larger context of what’s happening within the Democratic Party right now, it doesn’t just make more sense — it also becomes quite telling. If even Andrew Cuomo has decided that spurning multinational corporations like McDonald’s by supporting the “Fight for $15” is in his self-interest, then the balance of power among Democrats has truly shifted in favor of the party’s activist, union base.

Of course, this is hardly to say the Democratic Party is now the social democratic organization of lefties’ dreams. The minimum wage for fast-food workers is just one issue, and in terms of threatening the party’s wealthiest supporters, it’s relatively harmless (political donations from the fast-food industry overwhelmingly benefit Republicans). But Cuomo’s op-ed for the Times, while significant, isn’t the most important sign that the Democratic base is steering the party in a more left-wing direction. In fact, it’s not even the first or the most conspicuous; but those designations belong to Democrats whose respective names carry at least as much weight.

A political shift on this order is always a long time coming, so picking a start date is inevitably somewhat arbitrary. But if I had to point to one big, specific moment when it started looking like party elites would have to veer left to stay in the base’s favor, I’d go with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s surprisingly difficult reelection from earlier this year. As I wrote at the time, one of the main reasons why Emanuel had to fight off a left-wing primary challenger was because Chicago Democrats, especially African- and Latino-Americans, were angry over a first-term record they saw as too conservative on economics and education. Some even took to calling him “Mayor 1 Percent.”

After running an apologetic run-off campaign — in which the neoliberal Emanuel and his supporters tried to refashion him as a true progressive — the mayor ended up defeating his opponent, Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, with relative ease. But while Garcia, by most accounts, ran a disorganized and borderline incompetent campaign, simply forcing Emanuel into the run-off was itself a major victory. No incumbent Chicago mayor had ever had to do it before, and it was widely seen by expert observers as an “embarrassment” for President Obama’s former chief of staff. In retrospect, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis’s unfortunate illness may have saved Emanuel’s career in electoral politics.

Chicago was the first sign that a new Democratic Party base — one comprised of more people of color as well as educated and single women — was exerting its influence. But former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s nascent presidential campaign has been the most conspicuous. Because while Emanuel’s pivot to the left wasn’t so much about policy as public relations, Clinton’s campaign has thus far been characterized by her assuming new, more liberal policy positions. Despite having been a believer in the “tough on crime” policies of her husband, Clinton endorsed outfitting the nation’s law enforcement with body cameras, and spent her first big policy address calling for mass incarceration’s end.

Brady’s Punishment — Andy Borowitz has the awful news.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (The Borowitz Report) – In what football insiders are calling an unexpectedly severe punishment, the National Football League has sentenced the New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady to a year with the New York Jets for his role in the so-called Deflategate scandal.

The punishment drew howls of protest from Patriots fans and management, with many calling it the harshest in league history, but N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell defended the decision as “a necessary deterrent.”

“We need to send the message that this league has zero tolerance for cheating,” Goodell said. “We believe that a year of playing quarterback for the Jets sends that message loud and clear.”

Brady was reportedly in a state of shock when he heard the news of his punishment. He later met with reporters in a hastily called press conference during which he frequently seemed on the verge of tears.

“I am going to fight this decision with every fibre of my being,” Brady said. “This is America. You can’t force a person to play for the Jets.”

At a sports bar in Manhattan, the reaction to the impending arrival of the Jets’ longtime nemesis was muted. One Jets fan observed, “Look, Brady’s a dick, but even he didn’t deserve this.”

Doonesbury — Gaming the system.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Tried And Kaboom

Via TPM:

“If you want to know who I listen to for advice, it’s him,” Jeb Bush said, the Post reported, citing four anonymous attendees of the meeting.

Because it worked so well the last time, right?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Off And Running

So Mike Huckabee is now in the GOP scrum.  Any bets on how long this one will last?

Steve Benen looks at the former Arkansas governor and predicts that he won’t make it; he’s already alienated two of the three major GOP constituents — the fiscal hawks and the neocons — and that leaves him the evangelicals, and Ted Cruz is already working that side of the street.

I’m guessing that within a year he’ll be back on Fox News.  But not to worry; according to Rachel Maddow, if you consider all the possibilities, there are at least twenty-one other Republicans to choose from.  Whee.

Short Takes

Secretary of State Kerry made an unannounced visit to Somalia.

Twitter Trail: Police follow the moves of the Texas shooters via social media.

Attorney General Lynch went to Baltimore.

President Obama is nominating Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr. as the new head of the Joint Chiefs.

Hillary Clinton promises to go “even further” on immigration.

The Tigers lost to the White Sox 5-2.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Dr. Carson’s Logic

Dr. Ben Carson, a highly-respected neurosurgeon, has decided to run for president.  His selling point is that he has never held political office and is thereby unencumbered by all the baggage that comes from being a politician.

I get it that a lot of people think politics is not brain surgery, but how many people would want to have a brain tumor removed by someone who has never done the operation and is thereby unencumbered by all that training you get in med school?

The fact that we have elected a number of idiots to office at every level doesn’t mean that you don’t need highly-qualified people to do the job.